IOWA CITY, Ia. — Melsahn Basabe logged a team-high 34 minutes in Thursday’s victory at Penn State. The last time Iowa’s junior forward got that much playing time came late in his freshman season against Michigan.
“For him that’s big, because he’s struggled with his conditioning to play 34 minutes,” Iowa basketball coach Fran McCaffery said.
Basabe will start for the sixth consecutive game Sunday when the Hawkeyes host Minnesota in a 1 p.m. Big Ten contest at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“I feel like I come with energy, and the team feeds off it,” said the 6-foot-7 Basabe, who had 11 points, six rebounds, four blocked shots and two steals against the Nittany Lions as Iowa improved to 5-7 in the Big Ten and 16-9 overall.
Basabe played 35 minutes or more in four games as a freshman, when he averaged 11 points and 6.8 rebounds. His production fell off to 8.2 points and 4.8 rebounds in a disappointing sophomore season. He didn’t play more than 28 minutes in any of Iowa’s last 20 games in 2011-12 and lost his starting spot at the end of January.
McCaffery inserted him back into the starting lineup against Penn State on Jan. 31, and he responded with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Basabe is second in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage at .597. He’s Iowa’s leader in blocked shots (1.2 per game), third in rebounding (4.6) and fourth in scoring (7.5).
He needs just seven more rebounds to reach 500 for his career. Basabe’s rebounding and shotblocking ability is one reason why Iowa is playing the best defense of any of McCaffery’s three Hawkeye teams.
“Everyone knows that to win, you have to play defense,” Basabe said.
Iowa had the worst defense in the Big Ten a year ago, allowing an average of 71.6 points a game. This year’s team has shaved four points a game off that average, and moved up to ninth in the league in scoring defense.
Big Ten opponents are shooting just 41.6 percent from the field, compared to 45.4 percent last season.
That includes 30.8 percent from three, compared to 32.2 percent a season ago. Iowa is fifth in the Big Ten in field-goal percentage defense and third in three-point percentage defense.
“There has been a concerted effort, collectively, to be a better team defensively,” McCaffery said. “It’s right there in the numbers. Granted, we’re much deeper than we’ve ever been, and that helps tremendously.”
Defense has kept Iowa in games when its offense has sputtered. The Hawkeyes shot just 31.1 percent from the field in an overtime loss at Purdue Jan. 27.And just 36.2 at Minnesota in a 62-59 loss Feb. 3. Iowa had a two-point lead until Austin Hollins hit a 3-pointer with 12 seconds remaining. The Hawkeyes shot just 33.8 percent in a double overtime loss at Wisconsin on Feb. 6.
“It was our defense that kept us in those games, and put us in a position to win,” McCaffery said. “It’s always hard when you lose those games. It’s gut wrenching. But you have to keep things in perspective and say, “You know what? It we would have played offense like this in the past couple of years on the road, they would have been 25-point losses.’ So I think we’ve made great progress.”
SUNDAY’S IOWA MEN’S GAME
WHO: Minnesota (18-7, 6-6 Big Ten) at Iowa (16-9, 5-7 Big Ten)
WHERE: Carver-Hawkeye Arena, Iowa City
TIPOFF: 1 p.m.
TICKETS: sold out
TELEVISION: Big Ten Network
RADIO: WHO-AM (1040) and Hawkeye Radio Network
STAT LEADERS: For Minnesota — Andre Hollins 14.1 ppg; Trevor Mbakwe 8.7 rpg; Andre Hollins 3.5 apg; For Iowa — Devyn Marble 13.6 ppg; Aaron White 5.9 rpg; Anthony Clemmons 3.6 apg
ABOUT THE GOPHERS: After winning at Illinois on Jan. 9, Minnesota has lost four straight Big Ten road games (Indiana, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Michigan State ). Three of the four have been by seven points or less.
ABOUT THE HAWKEYES: Aaron White is 123-for-171 from the free-throw line, which is the most attempts and makes for a sophomore in school history.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Minnesota leads the Big Ten in rebound margin (plus 7.1). The teams tied on the boards , 35-35, in their first meeting on Feb. 3, a 62-59 Minnesota victory at Williams Arena. Iowa had an 18-12 edge on the offensive glass. The Gophers’ Trevor Mbakwe leads the Big Ten in rebounding (8.7).
— Rick Brown
Category: Iowa Hawkeyes men's basketball